Things to do in Santiago
There are many worthwhile things to see and do in Santiago for travellers. A fantastic way to start familiarising themselves with this vibrant and busy city is to pay a visit to the Plaza de Armas, Santiago's central square. Many of the destination's main attractions are in walking distance of this classic colonial meeting space. There are also brilliant walking tours with a group called Spicy Chile, who offer different walks each day to give tourists an introduction to the city. The guides are knowledgeable locals and the tours are free (although tips are expected).
There are a number of small but interesting museums in Santiago, the best of which is the Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art, a must see for those interested in the ancient cultures of South America. Visitors travelling in Santiago with kids should also pop into the Museo Interactivo Mirador, a huge interactive museum with lots of educational activities and play areas. Another deservedly popular attraction in Santiago is Pablo Neruda's home: the late Nobel-winning poet's house is colourful, eccentric and romantic and worth a visit even for those unfamiliar with his poetry. It is called La Chascona, which means 'tousled hair', a name given in honour of his third wife.
San Cristobal Hill is a must for great views of the city and a refreshing dose of greenery and clean air. Santiago's parks and green spaces are a delight and it is never hard to find somewhere to relax in the shade. Visitors can try the Mercado Central seafood market, a bustling market that offers a massive variety of seafood fresh from the ocean.
Many travellers stop off in Santiago as a base for adventures out in the surrounding mountains; it has become a renowned area for ecotourism and travellers can take their pick of exciting outdoor activities, including skiing, horse riding, climbing and hiking. Those looking for a more mellow experience of the beautiful surroundings of Santiago should take a tour of the famous wine country just outside the city.
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is both the heart of Santiago and the city's historical centre, a square hemmed in by impressive Spanish colonial public buildings, including the 18th-century Ca…
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is both the heart of Santiago and the city's historical centre, a square hemmed in by impressive Spanish colonial public buildings, including the 18th-century Cathedral and elaborate main post office that was once the Spanish governor's residence. As with most colonial squares of this kind, and as the name suggests, the Plaza de Armas was designed to be the open space in which the armed forces of the city could gather to parade and to protect Santiago's most important buildings.
The square became the hub of administrative, commercial and social life when the city was founded in 1541, and today it remains the centre of life in the city. Never a dull place to be by day, with its constant activity and throngs of people entertained by buskers and local artists, the evenings are just as lively, when passers-by can become embroiled in chess games on temporary tables set up under the trees.
This square is the point from which all distances are measured in Chile, and the central point for the grid pattern of the streets. Visitors should be aware of their belongings here as it is a popular target spot among pickpockets. Nevertheless, the square is a useful starting point for sightseeing in Santiago, as many attractions are close by.
Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art
The Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art is a fascinating place to spend a few hours and is a great find for art and archaeology enthusiasts. Housed in the old Royal Customs House i…
Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art
The Chilean Museum of Pre-Colombian Art is a fascinating place to spend a few hours and is a great find for art and archaeology enthusiasts. Housed in the old Royal Customs House in Santiago, its collection is impressively large compared to many other museums in a similar vein, and spans around 4,500 years and 80 pre-Columbian civilisations of South America. Exhibits are beautifully curated and the collection provides an informative insight into the cultures of the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and other proud civilisations of the continent, illustrating their artistic diversity and advancement. It is worth paying extra for a guided tour, though, as the labels are not translated into many languages and are not as comprehensive as some might like.
Santiago's colourful Mercado Central is housed in an 1872 wrought-iron structure, and has a fruit and vegetable market as well as a buzzing fish market where an assortment of glist…
Santiago's colourful Mercado Central is housed in an 1872 wrought-iron structure, and has a fruit and vegetable market as well as a buzzing fish market where an assortment of glistening fresh seafood is packed onto tables. Mussels, oysters and clams sit in buckets among an immense variety of crustaceans and tentacled creatures. The fishmongers demonstrate their skill at gutting and filleting amid a cacophony of frenzied buying. The best time to visit is at lunchtime, when a delicious sampling of the wares can be enjoyed in the happily chaotic atmosphere of the central hall.
There are many restaurants to choose from and often the smaller ones are the best (and a bit cheaper). Mercado Central can be rather expensive owing to its increasing popularity among tourists, so visitors should be on the lookout for bargains. It can be crowded and chaotic, but the seafood is excellent and always fresh, the architecture is interesting, and there is a festive feel to the place (partly thanks to the street musicians who frequent it). It is essentially a food market but there are usually some vendors selling souvenirs, jewellery and the like as well. It's advised that visitors stay aware and keep hold of their possessions, as pickpockets often target markets of this kind.
Cerro San Cristóbal
Cerro San Cristobal is a 2,752-foot (860m) hill that rises above central Santiago and, on a clear day, affords magnificent views of the surrounding city, all the way across to the …
Cerro San Cristóbal
Cerro San Cristobal is a 2,752-foot (860m) hill that rises above central Santiago and, on a clear day, affords magnificent views of the surrounding city, all the way across to the Andes. The easiest way to the top is by funicular, but there is also a teleferico (cable car), bus or hiking path leading up from the bottom through the forested slopes. There are many walkways and, at the summit, the 70-foot (22m) high statue of the Virgin Mary to mark where the Pope held a mass in 1987. Visitors will find picnic sites on the lower slopes and the park also contains two outdoor swimming pools. The hill is situated within Santiago's biggest open space, the tranquil Parque Metropolitano, which makes for a peaceful escape from the bustle of the city. Visitors need a few hours to enjoy the park and, on a sunny day, the swimming pools are a delight.
Chilean wine enjoys a good reputation among sommeliers all around the world, with its popularity continuing to soar. Central Chile's Mediterranean climate is ideal for vineyards, a…
Chilean wine enjoys a good reputation among sommeliers all around the world, with its popularity continuing to soar. Central Chile's Mediterranean climate is ideal for vineyards, and some of the best wine comes from the Central Valley around Santiago. Needless to say, wine tastings are a popular activity in Santiago, and there are many wineries to choose from. Valle de Maipo, Valle de Casablanca and Valle de San Antonio are the closest to the city, and there are nearly 30 wineries in Valle de Maipo alone. Wine country in Chile stretches for many miles along the coast, from Valle de Elqui in the north to Valle de Malleco in the south.
Chilean wine country is an especially beautiful region in the summer, and a great way to explore the area is on bicycles, which can easily be hired in nearby towns. Some groups of wineries have banded together to offer established tours along 'wine routes', of which the circuit of the Colchagua Valley is the most popular. Many tour operators in Santiago offer wine tasting packages as well.
Vina del Mar
Vina del Mar is a short bus ride from Santiago, right next to Valparaiso; in fact, travellers could be forgiven for thinking the two coastal cities are one and the same. Vina del M…
Vina del Mar
Vina del Mar is a short bus ride from Santiago, right next to Valparaiso; in fact, travellers could be forgiven for thinking the two coastal cities are one and the same. Vina del Mar has a vastly different character to bohemian Valparaiso, though. It is a safer, more manicured city celebrated for its fun resort culture, malls and beautiful beaches. Vina del Mar translates as 'Vineyard of the Sea', and the city's beautiful parks have earned it the romantic nickname of Ciudad Jardin, or 'Garden City'.
Pretty Vina del Mar is a popular summer resort and weekend retreat for the wealthy inhabitants of Santiago with a rollicking nightlife, good restaurant scene, and beaches and casinos that boom in the peak summer months between December and February. Though Vina del Mar's picturesque beaches are its biggest drawcards, they are not always safe for swimming. Visitors should be careful not to underestimate the power of the waves and currents and should obey directives from lifeguards.
Located just 75 miles (120km) from Santiago, Valparaiso is a major seaport and has a real bohemian spirit. It is an historic port city; in fact, in the 1800s it was the main shippi…
Located just 75 miles (120km) from Santiago, Valparaiso is a major seaport and has a real bohemian spirit. It is an historic port city; in fact, in the 1800s it was the main shipping hub of the Southern Pacific, which brought wealth and floods of European immigrants, and created the debaucherous atmosphere that was often present in places where sailors congregated.
Valparaiso clings to the steep sides of 45 hills along the coast, a tricky geography that makes epic staircases and quaint old funiculars integral to getting around. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to a wealth of well-preserved historic architecture, but it is the highly modern street-art phenomenon that truly sets the place apart. The sheer amount of murals and graffiti, mixed up with grand old buildings, makes the whole city feel like a weird work of art. Adding another layer to this artsy atmosphere are the musicians who busk on seemingly every corner and artists selling their work at improvised stalls all over the picturesque hillside districts.
Unsurprisingly, Valparaiso is renowned for its vibrant nightlife and there is a surplus of cool places to eat and drink in the city. Apart from taking in the art, colourful architecture and numerous pubs, travellers should be sure to visit the quirky home of beloved poet Pablo Neruda, which offers glorious views over the city as well as insight into his life.